Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

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Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

Two years of border unpredictability, expensive flights and the risk of catching Covid and being stuck overseas has meant most young Kiwis have put their OE on the shelf.

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But the rite of passage could be back on the cards this year.

Travelling to find oneself

For many young people, the OE is a way to discover more about yourself and what you want from life.

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But Covid has reduced the amount of 18– to 30-year-olds departing New Zealand by half.

Last year, just 18,000 chose to head overseas, compared to 40,000 in 2018.

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Yet some young New Zealanders are still taking the leap.

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Ireland moved to Portugal with her partner last year in May.

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

Olivia Ireland and others choosing to depart New Zealand are faced with the risk of an expensive and complicated journey home. Photo / Supplied

“Part way through university, I realised all I wanted to do was travel and be overseas. As much as I did enjoy studying, everything I thought I wanted to do just didn’t feel right,” she said.

Covid complicated travelling plans and Ireland ended up managing a gym and working as a personal trainer in 2020.

“I didn’t love it though, so we decided to try and make a life overseas work and now we’re just winging it,” she said.

However, Ireland and others choosing to depart New Zealand are faced with the risk of an expensive and complicated journey home.

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Ireland moved to Portugal with her partner last year in May. Photo / Supplied

Returning New Zealanders still have to vie for competitive MIQ spots with an expensive cost.

There is no guarantee they can get back into New Zealand.

But for Ireland, the risk was worth it.

“So many people our age feel like they’re missing out on all these years of their lives being stuck in New Zealand,” she said.

“For me, making the decision to move to Portugal was really hard. I was terrified, especially knowing I wouldn’t be able to return to New Zealand anytime soon. But now I’m here, I’m so happy I’ve come.”

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

Covid complicated travelling plans and Olivia Ireland ended up managing a gym and working as a personal trainer in 2020. Photo / Supplied

Ireland said now she is in Portugal, she does not feel like she is wasting her life anymore and she feels sorry for those in New Zealand still eager to travel.

She said she is hopeful that travellers to New Zealand will be able to self-isolate this year and she can come back and visit.

Now is the time

House of Travel’s chief operating officer Brent Thomas said the travel company is seeing an increase in young people’s enquiries.

“A number of people are obviously thinking about their OEs having delayed them for the last year. Some others are heading overseas for study. And some are just sick of lockdowns and restrictions and just want to get out and explore,” he said.

Thomas said more people are booking trips for this year than were seen 12 months ago.

From House of Travel surveys, nearly 40 per cent of young people are ready to book immediately and nearly 80 per cent are looking to book flights in the next few months.

“Younger people – who often traditionally had booked online – are now seeing the absolute value of a travel agent in these uncertain times with the complexities of travel,” he said.

“There is certainly less hesitancy in the younger traveller to book because they feel confident they will be able to move freely overseas and explore the world like they want to.”

Changed plans

Since the Covid pandemic’s start, more than 200,000 students have graduated from New Zealand universities.

And usually, thousands depart for their OE.

However, with Covid causing chaos in the travel industry, graduates have been starting careers straight out of university.

Popular graduate programs such as MYOB, MBIE and MFAT have seen an increase in applications over the past three years.

In 2019, 150 people applied for MYOB’s Protégé Developer programme compared to 300 in 2021.

In 2019, there were 352 applicants to MBIE with 631 applying for 2022 roles.

MFAT received 560 applications in 2019 and 1168 applications in 2020.

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

Gabriella McLeay. Photo / Supplied

Twenty-four-year-old engineer Gabriella McLeay finished university in 2019.

She says her original plan after finishing her studies was a one-way ticket to Europe.

She bought a flight and music festival tickets to Glastonbury in England, Hospitality on the Beach in Croatia and Hungary’s Sziget.

Europe beckoned.

However, Covid pressed pause on her travelling plans and instead, McLeay successfully applied to Fonterra’s competitive graduate programme.

McLeay said the job is a blessing but now she cannot “just jet overseas” for a few months. Instead, she would have to accrue and apply for leave.

Like McLeay, other young New Zealanders have not been wasting time while waiting for their OE.

They have been saving money, building their careers and exploring their own backyard.

After five years at Canterbury University, all 24-year-old Hannah-Rose Watt wanted to do was run away to Canada.

Instead, she has stayed in 35 huts, hiked 600km and spent 50 days in total isolation … discovering a new passion.

“Tramping turned into a crazy hobby and now every single weekend I’m out in the mountains and I’m loving it,” she said.

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

Hannah-Rose Watt climbing Hamilton Peak in Canterbury. Photo / Supplied

Watt said the past two years in New Zealand have resulted in a complete career pivot for her.

“I would definitely like to have a job in the outdoors when I eventually move overseas. But if I have to stay in New Zealand a little bit longer, it’s not the end of the world because I’ve found my love in the mountains.”

Watt said she has been trying to make the most of these complicated times.

“I’m just going with the flow of things and not thinking about what could have been. Knowing I’ll be more financially secure and have a couple of years of work experience under my belt before leaving overseas is reassuring,” she said.

“My OE is just delayed, it’s not cancelled.”

Can't get back home

Tight border restrictions remain a barrier for young people eager to spread their wings and go travelling.

Many worry once out of New Zealand, they won’t be able to come home.

McLeay still has tickets for Glastonbury and Hospitality on the Beach, transferred from 2020 to this year.

“I want to still go but I’m concerned with whether that is possible, especially with the world opening up but New Zealand still staying pretty strict,” she said.

Closer to home

Some New Zealanders are getting around the border situation by buying a one-way ticket … with Australia being the first stop.

Twenty-four-year-old Sorana Pandrea took up this opportunity, moving to Melbourne just after Christmas to work as a lawyer. Her partner, also a lawyer, quickly found a job too.

Covid 19 Omicron outbreak: Students stuck in New Zealand flooding job market

Sorana Pandrea and her partner Blaise Harkerss. Photo / Supplied

“Travelling would have been more daunting if we were going further than Australia in these times. Going to the UK is much more of a commitment, you can’t turn around the next day and come home,” she said.

Job security in travel uncertainty

Job security is providing a way around travel uncertainties.

Pandrea said with Covid causing chaos, having a job already lined up before she left was what made her commit to her decision to leave New Zealand.

“We’re really keen to give it our all. We’ve committed to making it work and we may not come back now,” she said.

“My situation is an example the OE is back on the cards more than people might think. Man, if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

McLeay is hoping her New Zealand job will help provide her with the opportunity to travel.

When she got the Fonterra role, she realised how many overseas offices they have.

“This takes away the uncertainty of having to save up to travel and then resign because I could work here, get a good reputation and when a position opens up overseas, I could have a job to go to already.”

Travelling with a job appeals to McLeay because it means she would get to settle into a community, rather than hop-scotching around.

“You get to integrate more into a place and really experience what it’s like to live there,” she said.

Now or never

Young people are increasingly eager to make up for lost pandemic time and go travelling.

Travel is also becoming easier with many countries scrapping mandatory quarantine for vaccinated travellers, beckoning those who’ve paused their OEs.

Ninety-two per cent of those aged 18 to 30 are fully vaccinated and those getting their boosters increases each day, meaning safe travelling is an option.

“I’m vaccinated and Covid doesn’t really scare me, I’m just over it,” said Ireland.

Ireland said young people should do the thing that scares them as they are only young once.

“Time’s ticking, every single second counts, do what you got to do, live your best life,” she said.

Ireland said travellers need to be more aware of each country’s Covid requirements but travelling is happening once again.

She said for her, things haven’t always gone to plan but she’s learned the importance of trusting in the universe.

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